Why Leaders Use Humor


Note: This is part 3 of a 5 part series detailing why it’s important to have humor in the workplace.  This post explores the use of humor to enhance leadership skills.

Eisenhower once said, “A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.”  If you’re not familiar with US President ,Eisenhower, a quick trip to Wikipedia will help you understand that he might know a thing or two about leadership.

Now I can’t be sure what part of leadership Dwight David included humor in, but I think it may have been related to other people’s perception.  When you can use humor to diffuse difficult or tense situations, you are perceived as being “on top of things” or in control (whether you are or not).  Think about it, who are you more likely to follow?  Someone who is stressed out and frazzled by a recent string of events?  Or someone calm and controlled, and able to apply humor to relieve tension before getting back to business?

In addition to this improved perception, use of humor can also improve your ability to influence.  People are naturally more inclined to read and listen to what you have to say if you consistently use humor.

Of course you, being the intelligent person you are, are starting to realize that all of this leads to better leading.  But for those of you still not convinced, consider the results of some corporate studies published in the Harvard Business Review:

  • A survey of 1,000 executives discovered that 84% of respondents felt that workers with a sense of humor do a better job.
  • A survey of 700+ CEOs showed that 98% of them preferred job candidates with a sense of humor.
  • A study of 20 executives at one company showed that executives ranked as “Outstanding” vs. “Average” used humor 133% more than their average counterparts.  Reviewing compensation for the same group showed the size of their bonuses was positively correlated to their use of humor.

You might say that not only does money talk, it also laughs.

So as you prepare to give that recommendation, make that influential presentation, or have that conversation with, well, anyone, remember to keep humor top of mind.  You may find yourself leading the way to better leadership.

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